Outdoor youth sports can soon resume in parts of California

Coronavirus

Friday update: A San Diego County judge has ruled high school and youth sports can resume in the county as long as they follow the same COVID-19 protocols as collegiate and professional teams.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State health officials say outdoor sports competitions can soon resume in parts of the state that meet certain health metrics.

Counties that have a case rate at or below 14 cases per 100,000 residents will be allowed to return to the activities outside — even those deemed “high-contact” — on Feb. 26. That would include some regions that are in the state’s most restrictive tier for COVID-19 precautions, purple, which is set at 7 cases per 100,000.

At last update, San Diego County did not meet the threshold with a rate of 22.2, though county leaders have voiced cautious optimism that the region’s case rates are trending downward.

The new policies come after coaches, parents and student-athletes rallied for weeks and took their case to court for the return of competitive school sports and other youth activities. Health officials have said they’re concerned about the possibility that such events could spread the virus, either through close contact between athletes or by the mixing of families from different communities on sidelines and in bleachers. Previously, only practices and drills with health precautions were permitted.

Under the new policy, weekly testing will be required for football, rugby and water polo participants aged 13-and-up for counties in the purple tier. The test results must be available within 24 hours of competition. Those sports are deemed the highest risk, the state says, because participants make “frequent or sustained close contact.”

Tests will not be required for “moderate-contact” and “low-contact” sports such as baseball, cheerleading, gymnastics and softball.

The rules apply to all organized outdoor sports for both kids and adults, but will not affect collegiate or pro sports in the state, or “community events,” such as marathons or endurance races. Indoor contact sports like basketball are also not impacted, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Friday.

In all cases, the state urges players to wear face coverings when standing on the sidelines or otherwise not participating in the activity. Coaches and spectators must wear face coverings at all times and the number of observers for events will be limited. Teams will not be allowed to participate in out-of-state games and tournaments.

The state health department website has full details on the risk-level and precautions required for different sports tiers.

“Due to the nature and risk of transmission while participating in these sports, teams must provide information regarding risk to all parents/guardians of minors participating, and each parent shall sign an informed consent indicating their understanding and acknowledgement of the risks,” the state said in a statement announcing the changes.

Officials warned that the return-to-competition rules are also “subject to change at any time given the level of COVID-19 transmission in California.”

Twenty-seven counties currently have case rates at or below 14 people per 100,000. The biggest is Santa Clara county, which includes the city of San Jose. Another 16 counties have case rates between 14 and 20 people per 100,000.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the board’s chair and a face of the region’s virus response, voiced his support for the policy change. “We have seen considerable progress on vaccines and lower cases, and this is a positive step forward in our recovery,” he wrote.

“I applaud Governor Newsom and commend Ron Gladnick who has been a great partner in working with my office, the governor and our public health experts to see progress in the effort to let our kids play.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has regularly pushed for lifting COVID-19 restrictions around the county, also voiced his pleasure with the change. “As we celebrate sports opening again, I’m very happy to have supported this grassroots effort,” he wrote on Twitter. “I look forward to attending the first youth sports game of the year!”

Leaders of the “Let Them Play” movement, a group of coaches and parents that led the charge statewide on pressuring public officials to reopen sports competitions, called the policies an encouraging step and thanked their volunteers.

“To our athletes: there is a beautiful lesson in this effort for all of you,” organizers wrote in a joint statement. “When something matters to you and it is important, no matter the odds, no matter if you win or lose, you try. The simple act of trying can set events in motion that motivate, guide, and teach you how to struggle for something that matters. We tried for you in this case for a very simple reason: we love you, and we believe in you.”

For more information on specific sports or regulations, you can view the state’s full guidance here.

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